Using Celebrities and Other Real People in Fiction

Sometimes a story calls out for the use of celebrities or other real people as characters in the plot line.

But many people, famous or otherwise, are not interested in being written about in a novel.

Here are three things you need to keep in mind when using real people in your fiction:

  1. The right of publicity;
  2. Defamation; and
  3. Invasion of privacy.

For some pointers on how to handle celebrities or other real people as characters in your story, visit The Better Novel Project where my guest post on the subject can be found.

Kathryn

photo credit: Michael Zanussi via Compfight cc

photo credit: Michael Zanussi via Compfight cc

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5 thoughts on “Using Celebrities and Other Real People in Fiction

  1. Melanie

    Hi Kathryn

    Very interesting article, thank you for your insight. After reading the other comments, I’d like to ask a question.

    Would the liability fall to me (as author/publisher), or my customer, (or neither of us), of personalizing a junior fiction novel that I wrote (on an individual order POD basis) based on the client’s choice of names? If anyone else read the book, the characters would be immediately identifiable as actual persons and place names – but the story is extremely fictional, battling monsters that come to life etc. It would be sold on a personal-use basis (ie not libraries or bookstores), but of course that doesn’t mean that the real people or institutional location won’t eventually learn of it. The people are completely unidentifiable except by name, and associated location (if chosen by the client). The intent of using personalization is to use the names and setting of a well known place that kids are interested in, to encourage them to read.

    Thank you in advance for your comment.

  2. Melissa

    Hi, I was just wondering if I can ask you something?im currently writing a teen romance story.

    And is it okay if I mention Romeo and Juliet? It’s a essay the kids had to do for class.I know high school you read plays from time to time.So,I was hoping this is okay.

    That and I currently based one of my characters habits based from a tv show..Lets just say he doesn’t let anyone touch his car etc…would I need to edit that part out?

    Oh,can you mention fictional characters from a tv show or movie if it ended? One of my characters is a broadway star,she likes shharpay Evans etc… would I be able to use them as heroes for her?

    Thanks in advance if you can help me on this 🙂

    1. Kathryn Goldman Post author

      Melissa,

      Romeo & Juliet are fair game to include in your work. They’ve been in the public domain for 500 years, give or take. Actually, they were in the public domain the minute they were written. The Statute of Anne (first copyright law) wasn’t enacted until the 1700’s.

      Using characters in your story that were created by others could be a problem. Some fictional characters are protected by copyright, some may be protected by trademark. Without diving into a fair use analysis, your best bet is to create the characters you would like to depict as heroes in your manuscript.

      Kathryn

  3. John

    Hi Kathryn,

    Great article on The Better Novel Project! I know this is an old post, but if you have a minute I could use some advice:

    I’m writing a science fiction novel and I want to use Jim Morrison as a minor character. Actually, it is a copy of Jim Morrison uploaded after his death into a 13-dimensional computer, which is embedded in my protagonist’s brain. Since this is an emulation created after his death and not the living, breathing Jim, would this be enough to protect me from liability?

    I’m also considering making him an altered personality, deranged from dying and “breaking through to the other side.” I may also turn him into a “chimera” personality, half Jim, half host. Could these provide more protection from liability?

    Is it lawful if Jim speaks or sings some of his lyrics in the story?

    You mentioned d that the location of death determines the jurisdiction. Since he died in Paris, how would French law affect this?

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